Just like humans, pigeons prefer a risky gamble with a high payoff over a low-risk, low-payoff opportunity, even if the latter pays off more over time. That's probably because, like us, pigeons mentally over-emphasize large winnings; this could be because bonanza winnings are memorable and striking, or because we have a poor mental grasp on probability and long-term payoff calculus. In either case, one could say that both pigeons and humans have a gambling problem.
However, Pattison et al. (2013) found that the environment in which a pigeon lives affects its interest in taking risky gambles. If pigeons were housed in social enclosures (a large cage with 3 other pigeons) for 4 hours per day, the pigeons were less likely to show problematic, sub-optimal gambling behaviour!
The conclusion is unsurprising and somewhat sad. If you are lonely and bored, you are more likely to develop a gambling problem, and perhaps a gambling addiction. Both could be staved off by social contact.
This lends empirical support to the age-old adage: friendship, like phosphorus, shines brightest when all around is dark.
Pigeons prefer a risky option with a low probability of a high payoff over a less risky option that results in more food. This finding is analogous to suboptimal human monetary gambling because in both cases there appears to be an overemphasis of the occurrence of the winning event and an underemphasis of the losing event. In the present research, we found that pigeons that were exposed to an enriched environment (a large cage with three other pigeons for 4 h a day) were less likely to show this suboptimal choice behavior compared with typically housed laboratory pigeons in a control group. These results have implications for the mechanisms underlying suboptimal choice by humans (e.g., problem gamblers), and they suggest that a enriched environment may allow for enhanced self-control.